I think the most frustrating factor of French Genealogy is tracing your Ancestor back to France with nothing to go on. I know how it feels. No parent’s names, no places, nothing but the ‘they were born in France or Belgium’.
Here is a path you can take to find information that might lead you to the town, province or department your French and Belgian ancestor came from
I know this must sound elementary, but start in the state or province your ancestor lived and died in. It is the starting point. Most likely, your French ancestors were Catholic, so start with the church records in the town they lived in. Usually, the parishes usually accommodate genealogists. They might be able to give you the official document, but usually they will send you the genealogical information listed on the record. We’re they married here? If so, the place of birth towns might have been recorded. Church death records could also include that information.
Did your ancestors immigrate to Quebec/New France? You’re in more luck there because of the Drouin collection hosted at Ancestry.com and the parish records at Family Search are a wonderful source of information.
My ancestor Jules Nicolle was widowed and remarried to my great grandmother. I thought the marriage record would have his place of birth. No, it didn’t. Facepalm. I saw there was a death record of his first wife in Quebec, and looked at that, and lo and behold his place of birth was listed. I had access to that record for a few years and never bothered to look it up. So how does that apply to you? Get every record conceivable and connected with your ancestor, their siblings, and other extended family members. It’s a good chance one of those documents might hold the answers. New France also has naturalization and immigration records to search:
At first, I didn’t think they were that great as I was coming up nothing. I think one of the reasons, is they don’t have an option to search alternate spellings. Read to find out what information is provided and how to get a copy.
Next, try the civil vital records from local, county, and state. I would suggest that you look at the town the act took place in and order from the town hall. You will get more information from that record than a state copy. There are clues to be garnered from the town records such as witnesses, place of burial, handwriting of person recording the information, ect that a state certified document would not have. Example. My great uncle wrote in his mother’s death record and listed her father as “Leo Polo” which was what was on the state record. Huh? Name wasn’t Polo. I then ordered the town record and I could see why they did that. Uncle Emile wrote Leopold (the ‘d’ looked like an o) with a space between the o and p, as if it were two words. You wouldn’t know that from the state record.
Did your ancestor become a naturalized American citizen? Naturalization records are gold mines unless they were born before 1904 where only the name and country were all that was required. I found that out the hard way . Fortunately for me, I found a naturalization record for a great uncle from my great mother’s side that gave me the name of the town in Belgium where my Moreniers came from. This uncle was connected to my direct ancestors.
- Have you searched Geneanet.org? It’s a must
- Did your ancestors have passports? The vital info might be available there.
- Have you uploaded your tree to Geneanet? You might find cousins to network with.
- Have you started a ‘Looking for my Ancestor’ Facebook page? Another way to Network.
- Have you tried Immigration databases? I found one today that might be useful to you Immigrant Ancestors Search Includes immigrants from other countries as well.
I hope these will help you in locating your French Ancestors. Let me know if you have anything to share, I would love to post it.